Chris Norman, vice president of operations for Evil Angel Productions, estimates that video piracy has, in the past few years, "probably damaged my business by 15-20 percent" — and Evil Angel is not alone in addressing the severity of the problem. Red Light District, NorthStar Associates and other large adult companies have been calling for an all-out war on adult video piracy — a problem that, according to Norman and others, has been intensified by innovations in digital technology and the fact that video piracy has become increasingly sophisticated.
"In 2005, video piracy was a catastrophic problem for the adult industry," Norman told XBIZ. "Five years ago, the equipment to mass-produce DVDs wasn't as advanced as it now. Compared to five years ago, the problem is horrendous."
Michael Atkins, marketing director for NorthStar, offered similar observations, saying: "2004 and 2005 were really bad for piracy. A lot of people were counterfeiting all over the place."
Norman noted that although mainstream Hollywood film companies also are being hurt by video piracy, adult film companies have a unique set of problems because they are excluded from many large retail chains. "I think that the adult industry is affected far more by piracy because we don't have the venues that mainstream movies do," Norman asserted.
"Mainstream movies still have Best Buy and Wal-Mart, and Best Buy and Wal-Mart will not accept pirated product. Adult, however, is in a unique situation where you have some small adult stores that are less diligent about where they buy their product and are putting pirated DVDs on their shelves. When I say that, I'm not casting aspersions on small adult stores — I'm just saying that it is easy for them to be approached by a street vendor who will say, 'I have a great deal on so-and-so's product. Would you like some?' And the small adult store that buys that product may not even realize that it is pirated material."
Video piracy, Norman stressed, hurts adult businesses not only because of lost revenue but also because a company's reputation is jeopardized. "It's not just the physical goods that are sold — it's actually the damage to my reputation," Norman asserted. "It's consumers getting pirated copies of an inferior quality and not wanting my product again. At Evil Angel, we were tipped off by angry consumers sending DVDs back saying, 'This is crap. I want it replaced' — and our response was, 'This isn't a DVD that we manufactured. Where did you get it?' I think that was the first thing that tipped us off: angry consumers who were not satisfied with the quality of pirated DVDs they had bought."
Norman noted that when Evil Angel saw how much it was being hurt by video piracy, the San Fernando Valley-based company took aggressive action. In addition to using private investigators to determine where some of the pirated DVDs were coming from, Evil Angel filed a lawsuit in 2005 against five Canadian outfits and three individuals it alleged were involved in manufacturing and/or distributing pirated DVDs of Evil Angel titles.
Atkins explained that one thing adult film providers can do to combat video piracy is to make the appearance of their product as physically distinctive as possible — that way, pirated copies will be easier to spot. Atkins told XBIZ: "Red Light, for example, has the red disc. We make our discs with a holographic print on top; we don't even use a four-color process anymore, and that makes it very difficult for piraters. Putting the graphic onto our DVDs in a holographic form prevents piraters from photocopying it and placing it onto a disc. You have to inform people that if a DVD doesn't look a certain way, it could be a counterfeit product."
Norman said that one easy way to spot a pirated adult DVD is an unusually low price; if a new, unused DVD of an Evil Angel title is selling for only $2 or $3 (as opposed to $15 or more), it probably is a pirate. Norman recalled: "We made a statement to the press saying, 'Listen, if anyone's getting product for less than $15 here in the United States, it's pirated. Contact me if you are getting the product for less than that.'"
Mike Barry, director of adult operations for the Pittsburgh-based DVD Empire (a major online retailer that sells both mainstream and adult DVDs) said that because DVDs are so easy to replicate, adult film providers are fighting an uphill battle where piracy is concerned. But he is glad to see Evil Angel, NorthStar, Red Light, adult film director Jules Jordan and others being so proactive in fighting the problem.
Barry, who said that DVD Empire buys DVDs directly from the mainstream and adult film studios, told XBIZ: "As long as home entertainment has been around, piracy has been around — and piracy grows with the evolution of technology. As technology evolves, piraters evolve right along with it. As these piraters get smarter and smarter, they find more ways to do what they're doing.
"But the good thing is that on both sides of the fence — mainstream and adult — most of the studios are not just sitting back and taking it," he continued. "For instance, Jules Jordan is going after the distributors in Canada — and that's a good thing. At least going out there and demonstrating that you are actively trying to curb this sort of activity may scare some people off. But the unfortunate reality is that you're never going to stop it completely unless you have a direct link from the manufacturer to the consumer without any mediums between them."
Norman predicted that video piracy "will lead to the end of DVDs" and that in the future, mainstream and adult film companies will push for new formats that "are going to be easier to control."
"DVDs may not be here in five years," he said, "and I think that is largely because of how easy it is to make DVDs, how easy it is to pirate DVDs and how cheap it is to get pirated DVDs into the marketplace."
Atkins said that although adult video piracy was rampant in 2004 and 2005, he believes that the problem is starting to decrease because of the aggressive anti-piracy efforts of Jordan, Evil Angel and others. Atkins contends that the war on adult video piracy is why, in recent months, business has "picked up 5- 10 percent at least" at NorthStar — and he believes that if adult companies continue to stay on top of the problem, they can continue to reduce piracy.
"You're always going to have pirating out there," Atkins said. "There's always going to be someone pirating something. But I think that if the adult industry keeps fighting the good fight and keeps going the way we are, we can take a big chunk out of pirating. We're never going to eliminate it completely, but we can take a big chunk out of it and put a scare into a lot of people."